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Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

My dear encountered couples:

James had a good head on his shoulders. He seems to have been a man of well-balanced common sense. I am speaking of the James who is the author of our epistle today; or should I say letter? Though his epistle, or letter, has been divided into five chapters by those who have taken it upon themselves to do such dividing, and though it is considered one of the smaller books of the Bible, I would say for a letter it is long. I’ve never written a letter that long. My fingers would probably fall off. St. Paul often wrote long letters. But then rumor has it that Paul just dictated most of his letters and left it to his dear friend and companion, Luke, to put the words down in writing. Luke was like Paul’s secretary.

Anyhow, it is not Paul but James whose letter is the focus of our concern today. And we are using that part of his letter which deals with two subjects: faith and works. Two subjects that James treats as one. He seems to say that faith and works go together much more so than what the song says about love and marriage, a horse and a carriage. He says that both faith and works are essential for living a genuine Christian life and going to heaven. Since he wrote his letter not everybody has agreed with him. There have been those who have said we are saved by faith alone, others who give the credit to good works. James says they are two sides of the same coin. We must not try to separate one from the other.

If a person really believes in Jesus Christ, he will spend his life trying to do what Jesus taught and what Jesus did. He will do works, good works. The doing of good works is a sign and measure of our faith in our good Lord. Let me read again what James wrote about this:

My brothers (and sisters), what good is it to profess faith without practicing it? Such faith has no power to save one, has it? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and you say to them, ‘Good-bye and good luck! Keep warm and well fed,’ but do not meet their bodily needs, what good is that? So it is with the faith that does nothing in practice. It is thoroughly lifeless. “To such a person one might say, ‘you have faith and I have works - is that it?’ Show me your faith without works, and I will show you the faith that underlies my works!”

After giving examples James concludes his dissertation on faith and works by making the statement, “Be assured. Faith without works is as dead as a body without breath.”

I find it hard to understand how anyone can disagree with James. Faith without works is dead and useless. It is no real faith at all. After all, Satan and his devils believe in God and in Jesus Christ. If anyone knows there is a God and a Son of God, it is the devils. But their belief sure doesn’t take them into heaven, does it?

Is it because their faith is not moving them to do good works? James would say so. The devils believe in God, but they neglect good works. In fact, they do just the opposite; they do evil.

Maybe this is their problem. Devils believe in God, they in fact know for sure there is a God, but they do not accept that belief. They reject it. The same with any human being who says he believes in God but does not do good works. He is showing he has not really accepted what he says he believes. He has not deep down accepted the good God, and therefore does not do good works. Any declared Christian who does not do good works has most likely not accepted Jesus Christ. As they say, the proof is in the pudding. In this case, it is in the lack of good works.

Many people are in desperate need today. We don’t have to look far for them. We can find them in our own country, in our own state, in our own city and town. Many people are out of work, many who are fortunate to have a job, even a 40 hour a week job, do not receive paychecks big enough to pay their basic bills. There are sick people, lonely people, addicted people, uneducated and abused people. There are people who need understanding and forgiveness. I could go on and on. There are more men, women and children (animals too) that need attention and concern than any of us can count. Our faith demands we try to do at least something for somebody, if it is even ourselves that we do it for.

Oh yes, we ourselves are to be included in our good works. We must never think for a moment that doing good works means only for others. God loves us all, he has plans for us all, and if we believe in him that means we are to help him carry out his plans for both ourselves and others. We are not to neglect our own needs, neither spiritual nor physical. God wants us to take care of them. We are to pray, receive the sacraments, eat well, and exercise. We are to grow and broaden our minds through reading, and study, and observing life around us. We are to learn how to think and make decisions. All this is a part of faith. If I have genuine faith in God and Christ, then I will be moved to do the proper things for myself as well as others. If I don’t at least try, then let’s face it, it means I don’t have Christian faith.

Let me relate a little story on faith written by a Captain in the Salvation Army, Captain Kenneth G. Hodder.

The drought had been severe. The crops were threatened. Gathering his people around him, the local priest told his flock: “There isn’t anything that will save us, except a special litany for rain. Go to your homes, fast during the week, believe, and come on Sunday to pray the litany.” The villagers heard him, fasted during the week, and went to the church on Sunday morning. But as soon as the priest saw them, he was furious. “Go away,” he said. “I will not lead the litany. You do not believe.”“ But Father,” they protested, “we fasted and we do believe.” “You believe, do you? Then where are your umbrellas?”

Maybe that example is a bit extreme, but James is right. Faith and works go together. What we do shows what we believe; it shows how deeply we believe. Do you believe in Jesus Christ? Don’t answer that question now. How you live your life will show your answer to the whole world.

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